Unfortunately many people view archaeology as a ‘vanity discipline’ with limited value for modern society. I was once asked, “how relevant is your work anyway, it won’t solve any real problems, right?” In today’s funding environment this perception is a killer. Our job as archaeologists is to help build a better society - today and in the future – and the ‘Man vs Wild’ ‘Indiana Jones’ perception is a major hindrance.
PR is an important mechanism that we can use to demonstrate the value of archaeological research to other academics, stake-holders, and policy makers. Many academic disciplines routinely send press releases as a matter of course so why don’t archaeologists? Far from being ‘self promotion’ at the expense of the cultural resources, or putting yourself in ‘front’ of the ‘Archaeology’, PR is instead a fundamental element of fieldwork. If we wish to move the discipline forward controlling PR is critical.
I’ve come to reflect recently on the necessity and value of ‘effective’ PR. Far from making you a ‘cowboy’ concerned only with personal gain, effective PR can instead help:
1) Forge new connections and help empower marginalized groups. Much of the archaeology that we do, especially in the America’s, concerns marginalized peoples. Archaeology is a powerful social and political tool that can be harnessed for these groups.
2) Increase the visibility of the discipline. Media attention can help lay-people better understand, value, and support the discipline, translating into increased support for archaeology.
3) Force you to create a better narrative. We all need to be able to express the importance of our research in the sentence ‘sound bite’. Creating and managing press releases helps the synthesis process.
4) Find talented students, volunteers, and funding. Being in the news links you to people that can help spread your message.
5) Move your research in unexpected directions. Synergies and connections will always spur innovation.
6) Control the archaeological brand. The title to this post is a play on Holtorf’s book, “Archaeology is a Brand”. As a brand we should take a more active role in how we are portrayed and valued.
Managing public relations, sending press releases, and engaging the public is no longer optional. To control the “archaeological brand” and move the discipline forward archaeologists must move toward a more effective public engagement.